Fighting Foreclosure

The City of Naperville may throw the DuPage Children’s Museum a lifeline. The museum has been drowning in a sea of red ink for the past six years. Right now, the museum owes more than $9 million.

A rescue package would help the museum settle its debt with funding from the state, DuPage County, and the City of Naperville.

State Representative Darlene Senger helped broker a financial rescue package.

Chase Bank agreed lower the museum’s debt to just $6 million. DuPage County kicks in a quarter of a million, private donors provide $700,000 dollars and Representative Senger found almost two million dollars in state capital funds to reduce the museum’s red ink to approximately $3 million.

“Each member in the general assembly is allocated a certain pot of money that we can allocate to capitol projects,” said Senger.

Now members of the Naperville City Council will decide whether to provide that $3 million to purchase the museum’s property and zero out its debt.

“We’re proposing that the city’s purchasing price be broken into two components,” said Doug Krieger, Naperville’s City Manager. “$1 million of which will be funded by the Burlington parking fund and the other $2 million would be paid long term through SECA fund adjustments.”

The museum currently receives about $340,000 a year from Naperville’s Special Events and Cultural Amenities, or SECA fund. If the deal is approved, the city would use less than half that amount to pay itself back for the bailout.

“Going forward the city will be including a $140,000 SECA request to reimburse ourself for the debt services associated, which is principal and interest required to retire the bonds,” said Krieger.

But not everyone’s convinced this is the best way to spend city funds.

“Here we are rushing to spend all that money absent of what I consider a significant amount of facts and data,” said City Councilman Grant Wehrli. “In my opinion, this is not the way government should be transacted. The museum is a wonderful asset. This is not about what they do, this is about the finances behind it, and to me, the finances do not add up.”

As a condition of the financial rescue, the City of Naperville would approve the museum’s annual budget, and two city council members would serve on the museum’s board of directors.

Proponents of the deal say the bailout provides a clean slate and a new direction in management.

“The museum needs to be run like a business going forward,” said Senger. “They have to make sure they balance the books, and if they don’t have the funds to put a program in place, you can’t do it.”

If approved, the deal gives the children’s museum a rent-free facility for five years, but takes 60 museum parking spaces and makes them available to commuters near the Burlington Northern line. Then after 6 years, they will have to pay an annual rent to the city, to the tune of $60,000.

City Council plans to vote at their upcoming meeting on October 5th.

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